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Nebraska Fall Football Practice, 8.22.15

Nebraska head coach Mike Riley (right) talks with Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, during fall football practice at Memorial Stadium.

I'm starting to get a stronger handle on Mike Riley.

He needs to polish up his act on autumn Saturdays, but he is excellent on Mondays — borderline inspirational.

As for this Shawn Eichorst guy, I'm still not sure what to think.

You probably think I'm going to rip into the Nebraska athletic director. Nope. Sorry. It's too predictable and easy — low-hanging fruit.

Let's stick with the positive stuff for a minute. Riley, the first-year Nebraska football coach, showed poise, wisdom and perspective Monday during his weekly news conference, two days after a dreadful loss at Purdue. He typically begins these sessions by detailing what his team did well on the previous Saturday. I like that approach. Too many people in this world are ridiculously negative. Riley is a beacon in that regard.

OK, so he needs work as a coach. Note Nebraska's 3-6 record, the Huskers' worst nine-game start since 1960. But he's far from a hopeless case. And his unmistakable class helps greatly.

To wit: He refuses to be drawn into the bizarre narrative that former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini's personality and approach are still, after all these months, holding back the Huskers — that the players can't shake a mystical Pelini virus. 

The peculiar narrative is, of course, impossible to prove. How convenient. The narrative also is a slap in the face to Riley and his assistants because it suggests their teaching and influence aren't sufficient enough to override "the big Pelini brainwash," or whatever you want to call it.

What's more, the narrative is disrespectful to veteran players on the team — young men, not boys — who can think for themselves and perform accordingly, as opposed to being under some sort of Jim Jones-like spell.

Someone suggested the curse of Bo's cat is the root issue. That makes much more sense.

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Meanwhile, Riley made all the sense in the world Monday when he said intense criticism from Nebraska fans comes from a good place — they care.

"You wouldn't want it any other way," he said.

Riley was predictably peppered with big-picture questions about the program, including the obligatory, "How do you plan to fix it?" He didn't give a real answer, but then again, I'm not sure there was enough time to discuss his work plans for the next several months.

You could tell it was one of those "the-world-is-crumbling" days, because reporters wore stern faces and Eichorst, the third-year Nebraska athletic director, felt the need to tell the masses that all is well in the football program — which is usually strong evidence to the contrary.

Eichorst is such an easy target that I'm going to resist pointing out the ridiculousness and recklessness of him commenting on the program's state of affairs even though he's previously stated his protocol is to wait until the season is complete.

Let me play lawyer for a second and revise the wording of his "policy:" I, Shawn Eichorst, will steadfastly refuse in-season comments on a coach, particularly in those cases when I hope to fire that coach at season's end. Otherwise, I might just talk about him/her two or three times during a season, or whatever fits the situation.

Does Eichorst, or any AD, have some sort of obligation to field reporters' questions every time there's a crushing loss? I would feel like I'm pandering to the masses if I were to push for an immediate Eichorst news conference.

What's more, my experience with most attorneys is they're savvy and careful with their choice of words, whether in a news conference or in a letter to fans.

I'm not sure it was necessary for Eichorst to send out that letter, but I also have no problem with it — except for the part where he suggests Riley is rebuilding the program. It was 9-4 last season, not 4-9, right? Then again, if you're in Eichorst's shoes, or share his agenda, such a spin makes perfect sense.

Bottom line, there's no serious harm in Eichorst trying to convince fans that all is well. He might also have been trying to convince himself.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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